October 6, 2014
Re-Assessing Women's Choirs

by Kayla Abernathy, R&S Chair for Women's Choirs

abernathyWhile in Dallas for the ACDA convention, several of the sessions I attended for Women's Choirs and their directors, mentioned that women's choirs were considered second rate, second best, second this, second that. To listen to these famous (in my opinion) choral directors from all over the world say that they would like to see a full women's group and a full men's group be the "top" groups, and the mixed groups just be pull out groups, makes me wonder if it would ever actually happen. It would in my dream world, but whether or not it actually happens in Arkansas remains to be seen.

However, this subject is something that we all struggle with in our own programs. It's sad when my girls walk in my room already defeated at the beginning of the school year, thinking that suddenly they are a bad singer, just because they didn't make the "top" choir. So I spend the entire first semester being their cheerleader, their support system, their motivational speaker. I try my best to help them help themselves, and start to believe in themselves again. We will have discussions about why they were in choir to begin with. Was it to have a title? No, it was because they love to sing. And no matter where they are, that will always stand true. If you sing or act like you are secondary, then others will see you and hear you as secondary.

Raise your self-standards and show people what you really have to offer. Do we then hold hands and sing "Kum-ba-yah"? No, but I start to see body language changes, brows start to un-furrow, eyes start to brighten, and mouths start to open just a little wider.

Dale Warland, who has a very long list of accomplishments and awards, said that it all really comes down to literature. You have to find those "perfect" pieces that are mature enough for them to buy in to what you are selling, yet easy enough to be achievable, and make them sound like a million bucks! I have found that if I really love the piece, and I tell my girls why I like it, they at least see a different side. I also tell them they may not find a personal connection with it, but they have to respect what the composer was doing when he/she wrote it, or what the composer was feeling behind every crescendo and decrescendo above each line of text.

Women's choirs have the advantage of being able to think and feel a little deeper than a lot of men's choirs, yet, like men's choirs, they love feeling as if they are on a team….together. The mindset of pulling together, becoming one, and beating the odds is appealing to a lot of people, much less teenagers. It puts a new spin on "Fight the Good Fight!" or "Fight the Power!" or "Represent!". Be sure you get pieces that challenge you occasionally, because otherwise you won't be inspired to challenge your choir.

I bought the book Conducting Women's Choirs: Strategies for Success, edited and compiled by Debra Spurgeon. No matter what your experience level, please don't go another day without getting this book. It even comes with a companion DVD. There are chapters written by people like Hillary Apfelstadt, Lynne Gackle, Lori Hetzel, and Sandra Snow, as well as many others. There is information on literature, how to voice them, suggestions on standing formations, the male choral director for women's choirs, conversations with composers, warm-up suggestions, healthy vocal development, and much more.
I love conducting women's choirs. Secondary? No way. They will only be as secondary as you inspire them to be.

Kayla Abernathy
1901 SE J St.
Bentonville High School